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Saturday, 25 May 2013

Saints - evolving, personal and alive

Several current exhibitions in London make significant use of the Christian tradition of saints to comment on contemporary issues.

In Iconostasis at the Halcyon Gallery, Mitch Griffiths asks, 'Who are the icons of today? Who are the celestial equivalents of our age?' "Griffiths plays with the notion that our saints have now evolved – no longer heavenly, but worshipped for their unending trials and self-promotion through the media. Griffiths’ figures exist in a state of purgatory – neither holy nor common, famed nor unknown – hanging on the edge of a nirvana which is based no longer on divinity, but instead on a false sense of ecstasy ensued by the rituals and expected behaviours of contemporary society."

In Cecilia Vicuña's early paintings, "religious icons are replaced by personal, political and literary figures, and some were previously exhibited in her 1973 exhibition (Pain Things & Explanations) at London’s ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts)." Her exhibition at England & Co begins with a group of these "paintings from the early 1970s that narrate her own history, interwoven with that of Chile and Salvator Allende. These use a painting technique Vicuña learned in the late 1960s from the Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington; and were initially inspired by the naive and subtly subversive images made by 16th Century indigenous artists in Latin America after the Spanish conquest when they were forced to paint angels and saints for the Catholic Church."
Michael Landy: Saints Alive is the culmination of Landy’s position as the National Gallery’s current Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist in residence.

"Landy’s imagination has been captured by images of saints in the collection; the colourful and detailed portrayal of their lives, their attributes, and stories of their single-mindedness and strength have provided powerful stimuli for Landy’s work. Towering over visitors, the seven large-scale sculptures swivel and turn, in movements that evoke the drama of each saint’s life. Saints Apollonia, Catherine, Francis, Jerome, Thomas – and an additional sculpture that takes a number of saints as its inspiration – fill the Sunley Room alongside collages on paper that show the creative process on which Landy embarked to arrive at the kinetic sculptures.

The large-scale sculptures are formed of re-imagined fragments of National Gallery paintings cast in fibreglass, painted and assembled with the surprising addition of metal cogs, wheels, defunct fan belts and motors that Landy has accumulated from junkyards, car boot sales and flea markets. Landy has reworked the two-dimensional images into energetic three-dimensional pieces, creating elements hidden from view in the original paintings, such as a saint’s back or the fullness of folds of drapery. Keen to involve visitors and to facilitate interaction with the works, Landy has devised foot pedal mechanisms that crank the works to life."
Richard Dorment, reviewing the exhibition for the Daily Telegraph, concludes:

"Landy’s interest in saints who were willing to suffer and die for their beliefs doesn’t seem so remote from the subjects he’s been dealing with throughout his career. What makes his take on the world so interesting to me is that he rejects both the materialism of Marxism on the one hand and of consumerism on the other in favour of a third possibility, that we can live our lives according to spiritual values, placing our trust in things we can’t see or touch or own – whether that entails religious belief or not.

What an artist."


James Macmillan - Padre Pio's Prayer

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